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Ten Golden Rules of successful handheld consoles

6:22 PM on 10.27.2008 // Jim Sterling

Portable gaming has come a long way since the days of the old LCD toys that took those little gold batteries that you never see anymore. As technology evolves, handheld games have become sophisticated enough to rival even console games, and have arguably become just as important, if not more so.

I myself am rarely ever without a handheld console. My job often requires traveling up and down the country, so being able to play a game on the move is something very important to me. As such, when I see a new handheld on the market, I want it to be good. These things keep me sane on the buses, the trains and the planes that would otherwise drive me to drink. That's a big responsibility, and if you're going to hold my attention, you need to be good.

This means only one thing. Yes, it's time for another Ten Golden Rules, the most important commandments that a purveyor of portable pleasure should take to heart if the gamer on the go is to be satisfied. Read on then, for the Ten Golden Rules of successful handheld consoles.

1. Long battery life is a waste of time:

It is a well-known fact that nobody is ever out of their own homes for longer than four hours per day, so any amount of battery life lasting longer than that timeframe is totally wasted on a handheld device. Considering it only takes half an hour to get from Scotland to Japan these days, it's just a drain on your finances to sink cash into a decent battery. 

Gamers don't mind having to bring their charger with them everywhere they go, and while it may seem to defeat the object to have a portable console plugged into a wall socket every time you want to play it, it actually doesn't defeat the object. We guarantee it!

With all that money saved on the battery, you'll have even more to invest in making your product as shiny as fuck

2. Make games that are impossible to play while traveling:

When a gamer buys a handheld console, what he's after is a machine that recreates the home console experience perfectly. This means that complex controls requiring precise actions and gameplay that demands the utmost concentration are a must. If your machine is to succeed, it must be stacked with software that is impossible to play while on a bus.

Nobody's impressed with simple stuff -- people appreciate glorified tech demos that show you how possible everything is on a handheld. Sure, they won't be able to play a single thing, but they will see so much possibility. They will enjoy the potential of games that they could be playing, if the possibilities were actually possible.

3. Gamers want to watch Spiderman on the bus:

When you make a brand new games console, what's the first thing you need to put on it? That's right -- movies!

If your handheld doesn't have a movie-to-game ratio of 50:1, then you'll be bankrupt in a week. Gamers are movie daft, and the first thing they look for when buying a new machine is whether or not they'll be able to watch Sin City on it. Don't worry about the games, they will come of their accord. What you need to do is make sure that the film industry is constantly supplying you with material because if a gamer can't see Jeepers Creepers, on demand, wherever he is, then he'll deem your product a total failure.

4. Homebrew is a bad idea:

Homebrew might be lauded by some as a great and wonderful thing that will enhance one's product and make them more attractive purchases, but those people are the pubes of Satan and must be ignored at all costs. Nobody has ever bought a handheld device with the intention of modding it, but just to make absolutely sure, you need to fight it at every turn.

5. Endless firmware updates are fun:

When a valued customer buys one of the four games available on your platform, it is essential that the experience is enhanced by a great special feature called "wait fifteen minutes while the console reinstalls its firmware." It's a thrilling minigame that should be provided absolutely free. What a deal you'll be offering!

Every new game should require a brand new, completely arbitrary firmware update before it can be played. Gamers will appreciate sitting and waiting while their system slowly updates -- nothing is more convenient when you're traveling and just want a quick game. Customers certainly won't mind wasting fifteen minutes of precious battery life while the console arses about with some brand new anti-homebrew patches. 

Obligatory firmware updates attached to each new game will make software purchases far more attractive, and it will totally discourage people from modifying the system so they can play Castlevania in fucking peace. 

6. Make your system as fragile as possible:

Young people these days don't appreciate the value of things, so it's down to manufacturers to teach them. What better way than to make hundreds of dollars of portable technology as liable to break as Stephen Hawking in a swimming pool?

Maybe when children try and take their new toys out of the house only to find it's about as robust as an anorexic with brittle bone disease, they'll realize that money doesn't grow on trees. Plus, it will keep them indoors, terrified to take their portable machines out into the open, which means that they won't be exposed to the Sun where they could get skin cancer. You'll save lives!

Besides, you don't need to bother making your handheld robust and suited to outdoor environments when all your consumers are huddled around the nearest electrical outlet.  

7. Dust under the screen is exciting:

Okay, give me a second for this one and try not to think about it too much.



Right ... when dust and grit gets trapped under a handheld's screen, that's an extra thing visible while you're playing the game. That's almost like ... extra graphics. Which ... makes it ... good.

That's exciting.

... I think I got out of that unscathed.

8. New SKUs > New software:

You might not have very many games, but that won't stop people from buying your shit twice. So, instead of investing in developing new software, why not instead redesign your gameless console? Make it 50% lighter and suddenly everybody will want one. Promise.

While you're at it, you may also want to make the redesign result in a worse machine as well. Shave a few more minutes off the battery life, give it a shit paintjob and fuck up the screen. People love that.

Make sure you celebrate the occasion with a firmware update!

9. Shiny Shiny Shiny:

Shiny things are important. Shiny things are expensive. Shiny things should be so shiny that they can't be played in natural sunlight. Remember, handheld consoles are all about style over usability, so it's up to you to make your platform as sleek and reflective as possible, even if it means you can't play the bastard in any environment other than a subterranean hovel. 

In order to make sure your system is the business, give it to a small child and let him play it in the park on a sunny day. If he returns to you with permanently scarred retinas then congratulations! You have just designed the perfect portable screen.

10. Promise that one day, your handheld will actually be worth owning:

The games industry is one of promise, and gamers long to be led along like stray and helpless puppies. Having seduced desperate gamers into your honeytrap, you must keep them transfixed with promise after promise that next year, things will be different. Next year, their large investment will be rewarded. Next year, they won't feel like they wasted hundreds of dollars on an admittedly sexy dust collector. 

Tell them of the countless games in development, the ones that they will never see. Regale them with tales of new firmware that will actually be useful this time. Convince them that things like a microphone and Skype are what they really want, and that such features will justify their expenditure. Do all these things, but never, under any circumstance, do the one thing they want you to do ...


Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory

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